I interviewed composer John Williams recently and happened to ask him about the stand-alone Star Wars movie titled Solo (about the adventures of a pre-Episode IV Han Solo). He confirmed that he would be writing the theme for the film and that John Powell (who had already been announced as the film’s composer) would probably be incorporating it into his overall score for the film. Variety editors thought this scoop was too important to wait for our feature story, still several days away, so we broke the news early Saturday morning. It was repeated and linked-to so often, in so many other contexts around the world, that I’ve begun to wonder if it’s my most-read news story ever. Update: Williams recorded his Solo theme with a Los Angeles orchestra on Wednesday, Jan. 3, according to a musician’s social-media post that included photos from the Sony scoring stage.
One of my favorite end-of-year assignments involves choosing the top 20 albums of “classic film music” released during the previous 12 months. This year’s task seemed harder than ever, because several labels gave us truly remarkable discs — some of them expanded classics, some previously unreleased scores, some of them reissues of very rare LPs. I enjoyed all of these, from the music of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith to that of Aaron Copland and Vince Guaraldi and many more. The list spilled well over the 20 slots, so I added an “honorable mention” paragraph to sneak in a few more titles.
We got the sad news about Dominic Frontiere’s death through an offbeat source: a paid death notice that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. It took an entire day (including calling every funeral home in the Santa Fe area) to confirm the news, and in that time I assembled an obituary that covered the high points of his long career. Frontiere composed several classic themes of 1960s TV — including The Outer Limits, 12 O’Clock High, The Flying Nun, Branded, The Invaders, and The Rat Patrol — as well as such memorable movie scores as Hang ‘Em High and The Stunt Man. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe and even his forgotten shows had great themes (I especially love The Immortal, Search and his miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors). Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety.
Composer Patrick Doyle and director Kenneth Branagh, who have Murder on the Orient Express in this year’s awards competition, had never done a joint interview despite 30 years of collaboration in the movies and on the stage (including memorable scores for Henry V, Hamlet, Cinderella and Thor). So when the DGA Quarterly — the magazine of the Directors Guild of America — asked me to quiz them about their long and productive time together, I was delighted. The piece is in the Winter 2018 issue, which is now online.
With the opening of The Post, Steven Spielberg’s new newspaper drama with its score by the legendary John Williams, I thought it might be a good time to look back at past movies with a newspaper setting and the music that accompanied them (and added a bit of information and commentary for each). So for this week’s online Variety, I found YouTube videos of music from Citizen Kane, Sweet Smell of Success, The Front Page, All the President’s Men, The Paper and Spotlight. Comments from composers Elmer Bernstein, David Shire and Howard Shore are included.
For another in Variety‘s series of looks at this year’s Oscar-worthy film music, I singled out four films that might be characterized as either fantasy or science-fiction: Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water, Rolfe Kent’s Downsizing, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s Blade Runner 2049, and Michael Giacchino’s War for the Planet of the Apes. All four are terrific, and while Desplat’s Shape of Water seems to have the best chance at nomination, I wouldn’t count out any of them!
As part of Variety‘s series of examinations of awards-worthy work in this year’s film music, we looked at four films that depict either historical events (Dunkirk, Battle of the Sexes, All The Money in the World) or were rooted in historical fact (Mudbound). Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score would seem to have the best chance at an Oscar nomination this year, although Nicholas Britell did a great job with Battle of the Sexes and Daniel Pemberton’s faux-Italian-opera for All the Money in the World is fascinating. And don’t count out Tamar-kali’s chamber-music approach to Mudbound — at a time when diversity matters more than ever, she could easily make the final five.
Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who rarely grants interviews, made an exception to talk to Variety about his music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what may be his final acting role. Greenwood was fascinating, talking at length about his mostly piano-and-strings score for the period piece about an enigmatic London couture figure and his model/lover. Of Greenwood’s four films for Anderson (including the remarkable There Will Be Blood), this score stands the best chance to get the composer his first Oscar nomination.
Given the number of first-rate documentary scores this year, a number of people have posed this interesting question to me: Could a documentary score win an Oscar? Could one even be nominated? (In fact, that has never happened.) I interviewed a number of people about it and, in this story for one of Variety‘s awards-centric Extra Editions, offered an overview of three of this year’s best: Jeff Beal’s music for Boston (about the Boston Marathon), Philip Glass’ music for Jane (about scientist Jane Goodall), and Alex Heffes’ score for Earth: One Amazing Day (a great BBC film about a day in the life of the planet).
Variety editors asked me to take an early look at the original-score race at the Oscars, even though it was only November and there are still a number of films yet to be screened. Realistically, at this point there are about 25 legitimate contenders for the five available nomination slots, but at this early stage I think it’s best to present them without making predictions (which is always dicey anyway). Along the way I found room to talk about diversity and gender issues, which are likely to be a factor in the race; and what composers are talking about in terms of time and freedom to write the music that will best enhance their films. Composers quoted include Michael Giacchino (Coco), Dario Marianelli (Darkest Hour) and Tamar-kali (Mudbound).